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Champion racer dies in weekend crash at Portland International Raceway event

Kelly Johnson (Courtesy Instagram)

Kelly Johnson, 24, died Sunday afternoon during a motorcycle race at Portland International Raceway (PIR), leaving the racing community to mourn the loss of a champion and friend.

The Oregon Motorcycle Road Racing Association (OMRRA) oversaw the race. President, Chris Page, says Johnson was leading the last lap during an Ultra-Lightweight Superbike race. When she came out of turn nine she crashed into the wall. Page said that no other racers touched her motorcycle, so they didn't cause the crash.

OMRRA brings to ambulances to each race and Page says those paramedics are specifically trained in motorcycle accidents. The OMRRA president estimated an ambulance was at the scene of Johnson’s crash in less than 30 seconds, but it was too late.

Johnson died on the track.

One friend described Johnson as, “the fiercest, most confident, and kindest person I've ever met. She was so full of life and full of energy and he touched everyone in such a special way.”

The racing community knew her as a tremendous competitor, a highly skilled champion.

“She was a consistent podium finisher in highly contested lightweight race classes at OMRRA since beginning her amateur road racing career in 2009. Johnson won Ultra- Lightweight Superbike at OMRRA as recently as April this year, and holds the PIR track record for that class,” wrote Matt O’Rourke in a statement posted on the OMRRA website.

Johnson was also known for singing the national anthem before races. Page told KATU that listening to the national anthem at the next race will be tough.

This was the first crash-related death since 1991 in OMRRA, according to Page. They have been racing at PIR since 1972. The City of Portland, who owns the track, says the only other crash death they are aware of was before OMRRA began racing, but the exact date of that crash is unknown. It involved a cyclist who hit a pole.

When asked about safety at the OMRRA event Sunday, Page said Johnson was wearing the best safety gear money can buy. He added that it was inspected before the race. Page described the area where Johnson hit the wall as an uncommon spot for a crash, which is why there were no air barriers set up in that location. He added that they will think deeply about safety changes moving forward, but said this crash was very unusual, emergency response took just seconds, and Johnson was wearing necessary protective gear.

“The Johnson family wishes to send thanks to the volunteers and racers who assisted at the track, who were such an important part of Kelly’s life, and appreciate the heartfelt support expressed by the racing community. OMRRA expresses its deepest condolences,” said the statement.

Johnson’s race number was 303.

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